UBC | Digital Visions
Digital Visions
Tsui Kuang-Yu
Writer: Michelle Kuen Suet Fung       Edited by: Sylvia Borda

Western art moved from the drawing, painting and sculpture in the nineteenth century to an array of found and co-opted techniques and materials in the 20th century. Duchamp revolutionalized concepts of art with the readymade; Smithson changed the landscape and brought the fragmented land art and Flavin made the industrial normative and an art object. Trends in art occurred rapidly in Western art over a hundred years and some movements co-existed concurrently with others. Compared with previous centuries, the art evolution of the last century was like symphony of fireworks, fascinating, changing and fleeting. If Western art historians find the hundred years overwhelming, how about this? Taiwanese artists in the 1980's took all these movements, compressed them and recited these in within a single decade.

Thus, an attempt to interpret Tsui Kuang-Yu's art practice from within the context of contemporary Taiwanese art developing out of the 1990s would be futile without realizing recent Taiwanese social climate from the past to present. To give a context to Taiwanese life, politics, and art, important social historical events need to be considered. For instance when the Chinese Nationalist Party lost the Chinese Civil War in 1949 in mainland China, the party retreated to Taiwan. At that time taiwan was a Japanese colony which was only given back to China's care in 1945 when Japan lost WWII. While Chiang Kai-Shek remained President of the Republic of China; the disenfranchised and newly relocated Nationalist party took the government seats in Taiwan declaring "martial law" on the island. Thus, 1945 marked a significant cultural change and transition from Japanese colonication and rule to new reforms offred by the Nationalist Party. Martial Law imposed demostrations and radical contemporary art being prohibited. The social climate quickly grew conservative under these repressive conditions.

It was only in the 1980s, thirty years later, that Taiwanese contemporary art began to flourish due in part to economic prosperity and more moderate political views. This burgeoning of new freedoms enabled Taiwanese artists to reflect on their own cultural experiences expressing these through new mediums and concepts not earlier tolerated by the government. When martial law was lifted on July 15th, 1987, ideas flooded onto the island from foreign investors or were introduced by Taiwanese citizens who took to studying abroad.

Radical art, thought and expression engulfed the island nation with first generation contemporary artists after the ban of martial law, producing a mesmerizing amount of artwork inspired by Western art practice. This intense interest in all art, thereby producing a survey of knowledge and corresponding artworks reflecting a hundred years of Western art produced within a decade in Taiwan despite the absence of such dialogue being available earlier on the island. Taiwan's political suppression and its subsequent end, created an unexpected backlash or cultural revolution that no other modern country had experienced in the thirty years before. Art in Taiwan, was the new voice of political freedom. It was the cultural purveyor of all expressions, a metaphor and an icon, for voices which had not been heard, under martial law.

With economic and socio-political stabilization in place, Taiwanese art gradually mellowed and matured the 90s which is considered "Golden Decade" for Taiwanese contemporary art. It is this climate that Tsui Kuang-Yu, graduated from National Institute of the Arts, Taipei National University of the Arts, and began his art practice commencing in the late 1990s. Tsui, an artist from "the Third Wave" generation artists, was educated after the end of martial law, and thus the political ideologies that was central for first and second wave generation artists were for more distant in issue and scope for this artist. Other fellow Taiwanese artists like, Shih Jin-Hua, Chen Yung-Hsien and others, also felt detached from radical and political gestures that earlier artists had used. This third wave generation artists elected to express their ideologies related to more basic human issues, thus began the "Action Art" movement of which Tsui is one.1

As a brief overview to "Action Artists," this group uses their bodies as the active medium to create meanings and actions. By occupying both time and space. Action artists create work. While it may be easy to compare performance art and relate this to the 1960s concept of Action Art. It should be noted that the Taiwanese art community distinguishes this movement from Western theatre and the performance art. Taiwanese action art sees itself independent from its Western roots and contextualizes itself as different through its Chinese connotations.


1 1. See Yao's Installation Art in Taiwan, pg. 484-488

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